Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use during pregnancy.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Plantain health benefits: for wounds and bronchitis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain is a well known weed

The plantain, Plantago major (syn. P. borysthenica, P. dregeana, P. latifolia and P. sinuata), is a weed in many places around the world. It is not related to the cooking plantain, a type of banana. Other names by which it is known include broadleaf plantain, common plantain, greater plantain and large plantain.

Plantain is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Plantain is a well known weed, often found in lawns. It’s a hardy perennial which can reach a height of anything from 15-75cm (6-30″) including the flower spikes, flowering in every season apart from Winter. Ripe seeds can be harvested from July to October. It is attractive to wildlife.

Don’t exceed the stated dose: excess amounts may cause a drop in blood pressure, or diarrhea. Susceptible people might experience contact dermatitis, so wear gloves when handling unless you know you’re ok. Plantain should not be used by people suffering from intestinal obstruction or abdominal pain.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) dried or three handfuls of fresh chopped leaves to 560ml (1 UK pint, 2.5 US cups) boiling water. Leave to steep for 3-4 hours, then strain off the leaves and discard. Take up to 1 cup a day, which may be split into 3 doses.

You can heat up fresh plantain leaves in hot water and apply direct to make a useful treatment for swellings and wounds, which stops bleeding and also encourages tissue repair. A standard infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, cystitis, diarrhea, gastritis, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, (“piles“), hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers and sinusitis, as a diuretic and to reduce fevers, or applied externally for cuts, external ulcers, inflammation of the skin and stings.

Plantain seeds are used to treat internal parasites and as a laxative.

A treatment for rattlesnake bite uses 50:50 plantain and horehound. However, it is best to get straight to a qualified medical practitioner, or preferably your local emergency clinic, in cases of snake bite.

Though you may not need to cultivate plantains, if you decide to do so, please remember that it’s important to use organic growing methods to avoid contaminating your remedies with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Olive health benefits: relieves bites, stings, itching and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives can be grown in containers

Olives are the fruit of the tree Olea europaea, also sometimes called oliveleaf, and mu xi lian in Chinese. Green and black olives are different stages of ripeness, though some varieties are always picked green.

There are 6 subspecies: Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis aka O. europaea var. cerasiformis or O. europaea var. maderensis; Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata (African, brown or wild olive) aka O. africana, O. chrysophylla, O. cuspidata, O. europaea subsp. africana, O. ferruginea, O. sativa var. verrucosa or O. verrucosa; Olea europaea subsp. europaea aka O. europaea subsp. oleaster or O. oleaster; Olea europaea subsp. guanchica; Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei aka O. laperrinei; and Olea europaea subsp. maroccana aka O. maroccana.

The olive has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and is now naturalized across much of the planet and widely grown commercially. It is best suited to a Mediterranean climate with cool winters. To provide a decent crop, olive trees require 2-300 hours of dormancy at temperatures between 7.5°C/45°F and 10°C/50°F (easily provided by a UK winter), during which time day and night temperatures must be distinctly different. Unless you have a room where you can let the ambient temperature fluctuate naturally, you’re unlikely to get fruit from an indoor grown tree. On the other hand, if your outdoor tree is subjected to long periods below -10°C/14°F, it will be damaged and produce a smaller crop, although it should recover the following year.

Olives can be grown in containers, otherwise plant them in well drained soil which isn’t too rich, preferably against a south- or west-facing wall. Water weekly until established and keep weed free for the first few years. Pinch out container-grown trees at about 1.5m (5′) to encourage bushiness.

Water fortnightly with seaweed fertilizer during spring and summer (May to September in the UK). Prune in spring and early- to mid-summer; just thin out the branches to allow air flow, remove dead and diseased branches and any that spoil the shape of the tree.

Depending on the age of the tree you have purchased, you can expect fruit 3-5 years after planting. It will start to appear in late Summer. Most varieties can be picked green or left to turn black. In any case, it’s best to take what remains before the cold, wet days of Fall set in. Pick leaves as required for remedial use, and take small quantities of bark, being careful not to ring the tree, in early Fall for drying.

Before they can be eaten, olives must be processed by pickling for several weeks and then marinating. Green and black olives are dealt with separately. Full instructions for one method are given on Big Plant Nursery’s article, “Preparation of your olive harvest“.

Olives and olive oil are superfoods, but they are also extremely high in calories, so regular snacking on olives may be impractical. Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils, as it does not turn to trans-fats when heated. It is sometimes used for making margarine, and often in preparing Italian and other Mediterranean-style food, so can easily be included in your daily diet. Extracting the oil from olives is impractical at home without special equipment capable of crushing the olive pit/stone.

Decoction: Add 1 tsp well-crushed bark or chopped leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water in a non-metallic pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue heating for 10-15 minutes, strain off root and use the liquid hot or cold. Dosage: Up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses.

Olive oil is a laxative, promotes bile production and is soothing to mucous membranes and skin. It also helps combat hyperacidity and treats peptic ulcers. Externally it can be used to treat stings, burns and itchy skin, also as a base for liniment and ointment.

A decoction of leaves is used to treat fever, nervous tension, high blood pressure and to lower blood sugar. It can also be used externally to treat cuts and grazes.

A decoction of bark has been used as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.

Recent research has found that olive leaf extract is very beneficial for preventing and treating high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteaoarthritis and lowering blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels.

The gum which collects in warm countries is used to treat cuts and grazes.

You can make a hair tonic by mixing olive oil with alcohol.

In Bach flower remedies Olive is used for exhaustion and mental fatigue.

I offer olive Bach flower remedy, olive leaf extract 6750mg capsules and cosmetic grade olive oil in quantities up to 5 litres in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Olive oil is used as a base oil in aromatherapy. One application is with rosemary, for dandruff. Find out more about olive oil in aromatherapy.

If you decide to grow olives, as with all remedies grown at home, I recommend that you use organic methods, so as to be sure that you don’t end up ingesting lots of chemicals along with your food or medicine. General articles on organic methods can be found on our sister site, the Garden Zone.


Tea health benefits: for auto-immune conditions, the heart and tooth decay

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea, which grows as a bush and is cultivated in many parts of the East, is familiar to everyone. The tea plant is sometimes called Assam tea, black tea, China tea and green tea, though these names are usually reserved for the various beverages made from the leaves (which also include sencha, matcha, oolong tea, white tea and pu-erh tea), and often to the processes used in production. The latin name is Camellia sinensis (syn. Camellia bohea, C. thea, C. theifera and Thea sinensis). It is not related to the tea tree.

The tea bush is an evergreen shrub, reaching a height of 13 feet (4m) and spreading over 8 feet wide. However, as it is only the tips which are used, it is usually kept trimmed to a more manageable size.

In common with other Camellias it will not grow in alkaline soil and is virtually allergic to lime and chalk, to such an extent that care must be taken when sourcing water to be used for it. It prefers a semi-shady position on well drained moist soil. It is not very hardy, surviving at temperatures as low as -20ºC (-4ºF) – zone 8 – in its native area, but only down to around -10ºC (-4ºF) elsewhere.

The parts used are the very young leaves and leaf buds of bushes over 3 years old, which can be harvested throughout the growing season and dried for later use. This is called green tea. You can also use good quality commercial green tea, which is readily available.

Green tea is different from other kinds of tea on the market, because the leaves are not fermented during processing. This makes green tea the most natural type of tea, and it is also the one which contains the highest levels of antioxidants (polyphenols) and other constituents.

To make tea using loose leaves, allow 1 teaspoon per person plus “one for the pot” in a pre-warmed teapot. Cover with boiling water and leave to stand for several minutes before use. Many people add milk and sugar, or a slice of lemon to black tea, but green tea is usually served without milk. Do not use artificial sweeteners as these contain noxious chemicals.

Tea is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbalism. Studies have shown that regular tea drinking protects against heart disease and also tooth decay! Use internally to treat diarrhea, amebic and bacterial dysentery, hepatitis and gastro-enteritis, as a diuretic, stimulant and heart tonic. You can use the leaves or teabags as a poultice to treat cuts, burns, bruises, insect bites, swellings, tired eyes etc. Cold tea can be used as a wash for the same purposes and for sunburn.

There have been many studies into the properties of green tea, and these indicate that green tea is effective against auto-immune conditions including ALS (Lou Gehrig`s disease), cancer and heart disease. Anybody suffering from an auto-immune condition (which includes many chronic diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as more serious problems) would probably find that drinking 2-4 cups of green tea a day will help. It certainly can’t hurt!

I offer many types of tea, including supplements in my online shop.

If you wish to grow it yourself for herbal use do ensure that you follow organic methods to avoid the corruption of its intrinsic components by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Musk Mallow health benefits: sweetens breath and spices up your love life

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Musk mallow comes from south east Asia

Musk mallow comes from south east Asia

Musk mallow, Abelmoschus moschatus (syn. Hibiscus abelmoschus), has a huge number of other common names, including abelmosk, ambrette, annual hibiscus, bamia moschata, galu gasturi, muskdana, musk okra, muskseed, ornamental okra, rose mallow (which is also used for hollyhock), syrian mallow, target-leaved hibiscus, tropical jewel hibiscus, water mallow and yorka okra. Having this number of common names generally means that a plant has been known as a folk remedy, food source or both for a very long time. It is closely related to okra (or gumbo), and more distantly to hollyhock, rosella and marsh mallow.

A native of south east Asia, the musk mallow has been imported across the world as an ornamental, often used for summer bedding. Despite being sometimes called the annual hibiscus, it is in fact a half hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of around 6-7′ (2m) by 3′ (1m). It’s easily propagated from seed sown in heat in spring, or semi-ripe cuttings in summer. In cooler climates such as the UK, it is best grown in large pots if you wish to overwinter it, so that it can be moved into a conservatory or frost free greenhouse in the winter months.

Most parts of musk mallow are edible. Unripe seed pods can be used as a substitute for okra, young shoots and leaves added to soups or used as a vegetable, and the seed can be used as a substitute for sesame seeds. Both the seed and the essential oil are used for flavoring, believed to be one of the ingredients used in the manufacture of Benedictine liqueur, but as the recipe is a trade secret it’s impossible to be sure.

The main part used medicinally is the seeds, which are chewed whole as a breath sweetener and to treat digestive problems including griping pain, to soothe nerves, as a diuretic and also (mainly in Egypt), an aphrodisiac. Ground to a paste and mixed to an emulsion with water, they can be used to treat wounds, or an emulsion made with milk can be used to treat itching skin.

A paste made from ground bark can also be used to treat cuts and wounds.

As with all plants grown medicinally, musk mallow should be grown organically to ensure the purity of its effective constitutents. To find out more about growing organic musk mallow visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil has been used in aromatherapy to treat anxiety and depression, but should be used with care as it can cause photosensitivity. It can also be used topically to treat joint pain, cramp and poor circulation.

As with all essential oils, musk mallow essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Apple Geranium health benefits: first aid for grazed knees and sore throats

Apple geranium is a good fly repellent

Apple geranium is a good fly repellent

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Apple geranium, Pelargonium odoratissimum (but may be labeled Geranium odoratissimum), is also sometimes called apple-rose-scented geranium, nutmeg geranium or rose geranium. Care should be taken not to confuse this plant with the rose geranium or the rose scented geranium, which are closely related but distinct species. More distant relatives include the spotted cranesbill (sometimes called wood or wild geranium) and herb robert.

Apple geranium is an evergreen but frost tender perennial which reaches a height of around 2 feet. It does not like heavy soil, but is otherwise unfussy as to soil type, and will not grow in full shade. It is best grown in a pot in areas where winters are cold and prolonged, so that it can be brought indoors to a cool porch, conservatory or greenhouse while frost threatens.

As with the two previous herbs, this plant is strongly scented, and if grown indoors will act as a fly repellent, especially if the leaves are brushed now and again to increase the scent. The fragrance varies from apple to mint, and fresh leaves can be used for flavoring either by putting them in the base of cake trays or crushing them and adding direct to the food to be flavored. Again, you can dry the leaves to add scent to pot pourri.

Apple geranium is an astringent herb, useful in the treatment of gastroenteritis, to stop bleeding and also as a tonic. Externally it can be used to treat skin infections, cuts and grazes, and as a gargle for sore throat, which makes it an ideal first port of call for minor ailments when you’ve got kids at home.

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves or 30g (1 oz) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain before use. The dosage for internal use is up to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) per day, split into 3 doses.

As I always say, plants grown for medicinal use should always be grown organically to avoid the active constituents being corrupted or entirely eliminated by the action of foreign chemicals, and apple geranium is no exception to this rule. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Turmeric health benefits: a treasure chest of healing

Turmeric is related to ginger

Turmeric is related to ginger

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Strictly speaking, turmeric is a spice rather than a herb, as is ginger which is in the same family. However, when it comes to its value as a remedy, turmeric is a star, and I’ve therefore given it honorary herbal status!

Turmeric is also known as haldi and has also been called Indian saffron (though it is not related to any other plant that bears the name saffron), because it gives a yellow color to food, and is/was used as a cheap saffron alternative. The latin name is Curcuma longa (sometimes Curcuma domestica).

Turmeric requires a temperature of 20-30º C to do well, and to be kept moist, which is a difficult thing to achieve unless you live in the tropics. However, it is possible to grow it in pots. Plants are available from specialist nurseries or you can plant a few fresh rhizomes obtained from an Asian grocer.

Choose rhizomes that look juicy (as ones that are dried out probably won’t grow) with a bud on one side. Plant them in a tray with the bud facing upwards in very gritty compost (mix horticultural or undyed aquarium grit with ordinary potting compost), just covered. Water and put inside a plastic bag out of direct sunlight, preferably with bottom heat. They need a minimum temperature of 20 degrees, as already stated.

Once shoots emerge, you can remove the bag, but make sure you keep the temperature up and the compost moist. At around 6″ (15cm) you can pot them on into individual pots (as rhizomes grow, you will probably need to pot on to allow room for them to develop). Put them on a tray full of pebbles or shingle, and keep the tray topped up with water (but not high enough so that the pot is sitting in it), to keep the atmosphere around the plant moist. Make sure the compost in the pot doesn’t dry out completely between waterings.

Although I’ve given instructions for growing, it’s not really practical to convert the resulting crop into the turmeric powder we are familiar with, because it’s a long process involving boiling them for several hours, drying them in an oven, and then grinding to a powder. Turmeric is cheap enough (especially in Asian stores) to make all this effort seem a bit of a waste – although do be careful that what you’re buying isn’t too cheap, as there have been cases of cheap (and sometimes dangerous) fillers being substituted for some of the yellow powder that is sold. The leaves can be used in Indonesian cooking, in particular beef rendang, the plant and the flowers are attractive, and it’s unusual enough to provoke comments from visitors, so you may agree with me that it’s probably worth growing just as an ornamental.

As you no doubt know, turmeric powder is used extensively in Asian cooking and also apparently to make tea in Okinawa! It’s also used by food processors in the West to color many food products where you would not expect to find it, from cheese, butter and margarine to salad dressings, mustard and chicken broth, amongst other things.

Turning to its medicinal value, there are a couple of contra-indications. Do not use in medicinal amounts if you have gallstones or any gallbladder or bile duct disorder. Turmeric is also not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy, although it’s safe enough in the levels found in food.

Apparently, taking turmeric in combination with black pepper (more correctly piperine, which is a component of black pepper) increases its effects 20-fold, so if you’re making a meal which includes turmeric, adding 20g of black pepper (or long pepper, Piper retrofractum, a close relative) would turn it into a remedy!

Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use across Asia. In China, it is prescribed as an anti-depressant, but mostly its uses relate to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, glucose metabolism stimulating, cholesterol-lowering and liver detox/tonic effects. It is effective in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis – more so than many proprietary anti-inflammatory drugs – and also has a reputation for preventing metastasis in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer, preventing the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, and preventing melanoma from increasing. Though it seems incredible, it has also been found to be a natural anti-venom effective for bites of the King Cobra. Finally, research seems to indicate that it can both put off and possibly repair damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. And this is just a quick overview. It’s truly a treasure chest of healing in a single spice.

Update

A woman with myeloma who had not responded well to conventional treatment reached a point where there was little left that could be done. She started treating herself with 5-8g (5.000-8.000mg) a day of turmeric and the myeloma went into remission. It is still under control. Source

Chronic low level inflammation is a major component of almost all Western chronic diseases. This may be why turmeric, a very potent anti-inflammatory with few side effects, is beneficial for so many conditions. Turmeric is the subject of numerous research studies, which find that it is almost a miracle spice, effective for many conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It has even been shown to help regenerate the liver.

Drink a teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a cup of yogurt, milk or fruit juice to treat indigestion and bloating, to normalize blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and to strengthen the immune system. Add a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper to combat colds and respiratory infections.

A condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa or Acne inversa, a very unsightly type of acne, has responded well (even in patients who have suffered from the condition for many years) to a dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric mixed with 60ml (1/4 US cup, 2 fl oz) warm water, taken three times a day. To treat any of the other conditions given, try starting off with a dose about half as strong as this, increasing if necessary. However, if you or your patient are suffering from a serious illness, do not neglect to take and follow medical advice as well.

Cuts, burns and bruises can be treated with a paste made by mixing turmeric powder with water and applying on a bandage to the affected area (or without a bandage, if this is feasible – however, turmeric will stain any fabric it comes into contact with permanently, so the bandage is probably a useful precaution).

I offer various turmeric products in my online shop.

I doubt you will be growing turmeric at home for medicinal use, however, if you do wish to, it should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not masked or completely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


American Valerian health benefits: soothes nerves and brings sleep

American valerian or Sitka valerian

American valerian or Sitka valerian

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, is also known as Sitka valerian. It’s closely related to valerian. Another plant sometimes called American valerian, Cypripedium calceolus pubescens, the nerve root is not related, nor is Jacob’s ladder (sometimes called Greek valerian). It’s very easy to tell these plants apart, particularly when in flower. The plant I’m covering in this post has tiny white flowers which are in clusters or even balls of many flowers on a single stem, whereas the nerve root is an orchid with fairly typical orchid foliage and large flowers in bright colors on individual stems and Jacob’s ladder has clusters of dark blue flowers. The plants are almost impossible to mix up unless you are going purely by the common name.

American valerian is a perennial which has male and female flowers on separate plants, so if you want to produce seed (so that you can replace plants you have dug up, for example), you will need several plants, to be sure of getting viable seed. The plant reaches a height of about 4 feet (120cm) and is happy in almost any soil, so long as it is moist. It will not grow in the shade.

American valerian should not be used by anybody suffering from liver disorders of any kind.

The part used in medicine is the root. Dig up 2 year old plants after the leaves have fallen for use either fresh, or after drying by laying out in a single layer on kitchen paper somewhere out of the sun which is dry and airy. Turn the roots over every day or so until they are completely dry and store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. However, fresh root is 3 times more effective than dried.

Make a decoction from 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or dried root to 570ml (2½ US cups or 1 UK pint) of water. Place the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. The correct dose is 1 tablespoonful a day maximum, and it is used for anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cramps including those associated with menstruation and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used externally to treat eczema, ulcers, cuts and grazes.

You will not be surprised that in common with all plants grown for use as herbal remedies, American valerian should be grown organically so as to avoid the active constituents being adulterated or completely negated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Vervain health benefits: for pain relief and as a birthing aid

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Vervain, Verbena officinalis, is also known as European vervain, common vervain, common verbena, enchanter’s plant, herb of the cross, holy herb, Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, mosquito plant (which is a name also used for American pennyroyal), and (in common with blue vervain) simpler’s joy and wild hyssop. It is not related to hyssop or lemon verbena. I’ve also seen it called blue vervain, but the true blue vervain is a related, but different plant. Even more confusing, blue vervain is sometimes just called vervain. Take my advice, and always stick to the Latin name!

Vervain is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia (as far as the Himalayas). It is a hardy perennial, reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm), which requires well drained soil, but is otherwise not fussy as to type. It will grow anywhere except in the shade, and will tolerate wind, but not sea winds. Harvest the aerial parts of the plant in Summer as it comes into flower, and dry for later use by spreading in a single layer and leaving somewhere out of the sun and with some air flow (not enough to blow it around). Turn the herbs over now and then until completely dried, then crumble and store in a labeled, airtight container.

Vervain is sacred to both Jupiter and Venus, and was once strewn on Jupiter’s altars, used in love rites and worn for protection in High Magic evocations. The druids also regarded it as a sacred herb. It has a very long pedigree as a herbal remedy.

As it is listed in Chinese herbalism as the 12th most potent anti-fertility herb (out of 250), don’t take it if you are trying for a baby, and as it is a uterine stimulant, vervain is best avoided during pregnancy until close to term or preferably actually in labor.

Vervain is an incredibly useful herb with many useful properties. It is a stimulant, tonic and detoxing agent, enabling it to treat nervous exhaustion, depression and anxiety. It removes blood clots. It is antibacterial (can be used to treat infections), analgesic and effective against certain cancers (according to preliminary research).

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves, flowers and stems or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to infuse for 3-4 hours. Strain and store in an airtight, dark-colored container in a cool place or refrigerator. Label the bottle, but do not keep for more than 2-3 days before use. Take 85ml (one third of a US cup) in the morning on waking to treat any of the conditions mentioned previously.

The same infusion can also be used externally to treat eczema and rashes, wounds, neuralgia, cuts and sores and as a mouthwash or gargle to treat gum disease or sore throat.

Vervain’s most important use is for matters connected with the reproductive system: to encourage menstruation, to increase lactation, and as a birthing aid (both by stimulating contractions and acting to reduce the pain). This seems entirely appropriate for a herb dedicated to Venus, the goddess of love.

The Bach Flower Remedy vervain is used for over-enthusiasm.

I offer vervain Bach flower remedy in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, vervain must be grown organically to prevent adulteration of its intrinsic properties by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic vervain visit the Gardenzone.


Witch hazel health benefits: for bruises, itching and soreness

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Witch hazel has a sweet and delicious fragrance

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, more properly the Virginian witch hazel, is a deciduous shrub which reaches a height and spread of 16′ (5m). I’ve discovered some alternative names, many of which are confusing (stick to Latin to be sure you have the right plant): spotted alder, striped alder, hazel nut, snapping hazel, pistachio, tobacco wood, winterbloom. It is not related to the alder, the hazel, the true pistachio or tobacco!

Witch hazel has unusual flowers in Fall, which place it and other members (and former members) of its genus in a family all of their own, Hamamelidaceae. Twigs and branches can be harvested in Spring, and the leaves in Summer to use fresh or dried for use later in the year.

When I was a child, mothers and dinner ladies (who doubled up as playground supervisors) kept a bottle of witch hazel in the cupboard to put on bruises. If we fell down or banged our heads, we would run to mum (or the dinner lady if we were at school), and they would soothe us, then get out the bottle and put some of the sweet smelling liquid on a piece of cotton wool, which they dabbed on the bruise. I have no idea how useful this was, but it made us feel better, and the smell was gorgeous. At the very least, I guess the smell was enough to alert teachers to the need to watch out for any symptoms of concussion. Because fragrance is one of the best triggers to memory — if you have similar memories, they are likely to come flooding back every time you pass close to a witch hazel in bloom.

Witch hazel is not fussy as to soil type, preferring well drained, moist soil and a position in full sun or semi-shade. The part mainly used in medicine is the bark. If you are going to harvest bark from your own shrub, bear these things in mind:

– bark is part of the circulatory system of the plant, so it’s important never to take bark all the way round (called ringing), or you will kill every part of the plant beyond that point;
– for the same reason, don’t take more than 20% of the bark from the main stem, and allow at least a year for this to heal before taking any more;
– bark can be taken from prunings by splitting them in half and removing the central part, or for larger branches, using a sharp knife to pare it away;
– twigs too small to be treated in this way can be dried whole;
– dry bark and twigs by laying them out in a single layer somewhere that is dry and preferably with a through draft. Turn it over now and then until it is crisp and dry, then store in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark.

As already mentioned, you can buy bottles of “witch hazel water” in drugstores, which is made by distillation of bark and twigs, and is lacking the tannins which are the most active components of remedial witch hazel. However, witch hazel water on cotton wool or similar can be used as a soothing wipe for the vaginal area, in particular during pregnancy.

Witch hazel is one of the ingredients of gripe water, from which you can take it that it is safe for children, and even infants. Although I can find no contra-indications in pregnancy, I would advise only using it externally during this time.

A decoction is made from 1 teaspoon of dried bark or twigs to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, turn right down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain and cool. Take 1 mouthful at a time, up to 1 cup a day.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 teaspoon of dried leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, leaving it to infuse for 10-15 minutes before straining. This can be used at a dose of 1 cup up to 3 times a day.

The decoction is used to treat colitis, diarrhea, hemorrhoids (piles), excessive menstruation, internal bleeding, vaginal discharge and prolapse. It can also be used externally to treat bruises, varicose veins and hemorrhoids, insect bites and stings, sore nipples, irritable skin, minor burns and poison ivy, as a gargle for sore throat and a douche for vaginitis. An infusion can also be used in the same ways, if the decoction is not available.

Witch hazel liquid, available in health stores and pharmacies, is used for irritated skin from a multitude of causes, including acne, bruises, cuts and grazes, eczema, infections, insect bites, piles/hemorrhoids, shaver burn, sprains, sunburn and ingrown toenails.

I offer several witch hazel products in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal medicine, organic growing methods are essential to prevent adulteration of the active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic witch hazel visit the Gardenzone.